By Jim Macak
Emerson alumnus Jamiesen Borak’s first of two produced scripts for the adult animated series Harley Quinn airs on Friday, May 8. His second script for the DC Universe streaming service series will air Friday, June 5.
Harley Quinn, the Joker’s ex-girlfriend in the Batman franchise (and co-creation of Emerson alumnus Paul Dini ’79), is one of the most in-demand DC comic book characters, with both live action and animated versions of the subversive character airing concurrently. The live action Birds of Prey, starring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, received a theatrical release in February and is now available on Amazon, just as the second season of the animated series streams on DC Universe.
Borak’s first script in this second season offers a new take on how Harley met the Joker, as well as Poison Ivy, her colleague in crime.
“I had a great experience writing it,” Borak ’14 said. “The story had already been told in an older animated series and in the comics, but I was able to put my own spin on it and add some new elements.”
Borak said DC Comics executives were also a pleasure to work with in this adaptation.
“It’s kind of surprising, what we got away with,” he said. “These characters have such a legacy and history, but it’s not like that history is a finished book. It’s an ongoing process.”
Borak’s two episodes of Harley Quinn are also his first two ever to get produced and aired. He was promoted from writers’ assistant on the series to staff writer in 2018, and he wrote the episodes that year and in early 2019.
“Animation just takes so long,” he explained.
What didn’t take long was the time it took Borak to get that promotion. He landed the staff writer position about four years after graduating from Emerson, which is an increasingly rare feat in this age of pay cable channels and streaming services.
Today, series orders rarely reach 20 to 22 episodes a season, which was the norm during the heyday of network TV. In some cases, new series orders now amount to as few as six episodes, decreasing the opportunities for support staff to get assigned a freelance episode, or get promoted to staff writer.
Borak received sole writing credit on both of his episodes, which also is unusual. In many writers’ rooms, showrunners or one of the senior writers often co-write and share credit with a new writer, at least on the writer’s first script.
That Borak, at 27, achieved some of his initial career goals in an extremely competitive field seems to be a testament, not only to his writing ability, but to his determination and ability to capitalize on networking through Twitter during his time at Emerson.
A Writing for Film and TV major from Cheshire, Connecticut, Borak discovered he had a disadvantage in pursuing a career as a TV writer.
“I realized that most of the friends I made at Emerson, they had connections in the entertainment industry. I had none,” he recalled. “Twitter allowed me to interact with some potential connections and become friends through that.”
At the time, Borak was a major fan of the TV comedy Scrubs and its creator, Bill Lawrence.
“Bill was more active than a lot of showrunners interacting with fans, communicating with some online,” he said. Soon, Borak had a pretty active Twitter rapport with Lawrence.
During their back-and-forth, Lawrence indicated that Doozer, his production company, was shooting multiple shows. “And I asked, ‘Well, is there anything I can do to help out?’”
Lawrence put Borak in touch with another Doozer producer, who invited him out to Los Angeles to visit the set that summer, between his junior and senior years. “It was a very loose scenario. Nothing specific was offered.”
Still, Borak bought a one-way ticket to LA and brought along enough clothing for the long-haul.
Borak helped out as an informal intern at Doozer until they found a way to pay him, giving him a production assistant title and extending his responsibilities across all four shows in production. That fall, Borak continued at Doozer while taking online classes at Emerson, and finished up his degree at Emerson LA that spring.
While at Doozer, Borak worked with two of the producers who would go on to become showrunners for Harley Quinn, and when they took charge of the new animated series in 2017, they knew of Borak’s interest in animation and invited him to serve as writers’ assistant.
Near the end of the first season, a writer/producer on the show left. Borak knew he didn’t have the experience to get hired at that level, but he made a pitch to the showrunners: He asked them to take the money they would spend on a new writer/producer, and use it to hire two entry-level staff writers, one of whom would be himself.
And they went for it.
“You have to know when to speak up and advocate for yourself,” Borak said. “I saw there was an opening … and I went for it. It was a win/win for everyone, and luckily, they believed in me and took me seriously.”
Borak said he tries to tap into his own emotions and fears when writing, as well as his own “weirdness,” which, he said, is what makes his writing unique and seems to appeal to others.
In terms of genres, he said he prefers dramas that make you laugh and comedies that make you cry. And as such, he added, Harley Quinn seemed like a great fit for him.
To see Borak’s episodes on DC Universe, the streaming service offers a seven-day free trial. After that, it charges $7.99 per month or $74.99 per year.
Jim Macak is an affiliated faculty member in Emerson’s Visual and Media Arts Department.